Strangers Project #13

It's back to Savannah for another 50 Strangers shoot . Forsyth Park , Not unlike any urban oasis it's filled with dog walkers , lovers strolling , a few of the benches occupied by men apparently with no place better to go . The promenade wide beautifully lined with the Oaks and Spanish Moss which long ago became synonymous with this city .  

      DeeDee and I choose to sit on a bench along the main entrance to get a feel for the place , scout possible backgrounds and angles and of course look for those strangers we hope to photograph . Perhaps a moment of relaxation , perhaps taking time to summon the courage to start our search and recruitment , we sat . People walked by in groups , some obviously families . Others were just as obviously only friends , peers you could easily say . Doning the apparel appropriate for their group they came to stroll , perhaps snap a few Iphone shots near the famous fountain and certainly watch us as we watched them .

      I was standing looking over our prospects and the location when I could hear the sound of wheels on the walkway . Turning just in time to see a young man flip his skateboard . You know the way those skaters do . Pulled it up under his arm and then look at me and caught me by a bit of surprise when he said "hey , what's going on " . This the fifth week at this and except for those looking to beg a few bucks he was perhaps the first to approach us with a greeting and friendly hello . I started with "well actually" and then went into the explanation of the 50 Strangers Project . He was excited about his new skateboard "made it myself , taking it for the first ride" . Canadian Maple was not the only thing we heard from A.J about this board . A.J talked with pride of it's flex and performance . We listened with attentiveness to his passionate description . Yet realizing this was stuff that only a real skater could truly understand . I do know this , if a jaunt on this board was as exciting as his enthusiasm was sincere , it was one bitchin ride .  a great guy our conversation covered a broad spectrum from his arts education to him getting shot in the leg . In his words "by mistake by my crazy redneck uncle" . Our conversation rambled and changed topics quickly , it really was terrific . A.J , thanks for taking part in my project , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was my pleasure to meet you on this day .



Strangers Project #12

We weren't 50 yards from our hotel when the rain started "we'll go back and wait it out" I told DeeDee . We had the pleasure of being visited by Ashley , DeeDee's daughter . our plans included working on the 50 Strangers project , seeing the sights and mixing in as much fun as we could stand . The rain continued . WIth undaunted enthusiasm we made a break for it , the rain continued but now at a rate we thought would be bearable , onward . Six blocks were covered when our advisory arrived again , we ducked into Jen's Martini Bar . How convenient right ? With Jen's help we smiled as we made another move this time to Johnson Square just 3 blocks away passing one soaked group of tourists after another . Crossing Broughton Street we passed Jim who mans that corner in his wheelchair like a sentry . With his long grey beard and toothless smile he has somehow managed to stay dry a miracle in itself , I've never seen him beg but he's quick to accept offerings after that friendly hello and smile that he flashes . Between Jim and Johnson Square sits the old barber shop now closed for the day , a real classic barbers pole in front . Peek through the window reveals one side for hair and another for shoe shines . Right out of a Norman Rockwell painting , I dream of somehow getting the privilege of photographing in there one day . Johnson Square is empty .

      Rain dripped from the live oaks and if the Spanish moss enjoys water every hanging strand was in heaven . I squinted and looked down the avenue to the golden domed courthouse . Damn if I know what this squinting does but if I'm doing it there's something visual churning up in my mind . "Lets set up babe" I said , that statement to my wife was returned with one of those "you surely have lost your mind looks" I know the look cause I get them all the time . Camera, flashes , umbrella holder all go together , I see my background , I see THE shot . All we need is a volunteer . Then the rain came again .  

      Scrambling to protect everything and pack it away , we were chased by another downpour . Our pace quickened , our hopes were dampened , as our bodies got soaked . We hugged close to the buildings , went under every awning , trying to stay dry to no avail . Another doorway found a middle aged black man and he wasn't shy to say " Happy hour buy one , the seconds a dollar" . Well that's all it took , we entered .I folded my wet umbrella and Ashley offered her's to the man outside , not wanting him to have to work out in this rain .  In a town that prides itself on it's consumption this bar could hold 200 , today there were four and now with the three of us that totaled seven all sitting at the bar . 

      Before we got onto our bar stools we were greeted by Warren the bartender , we ordered about as quickly as he asked . Warren was moving fast as if we would see a few hundred more arrive at any second . Stocking beers , cutting fruit he kept his preparation going stopping frequently to ask "ya'll doing O.K" . I caught his blue eyes and then squinted  around the room . Again I said "lets set up" and again My wife gave me "the look " .  Ashley leaned over and grinned "I have a bit of a problem" "What's up" I replied "well that guy with my umbrella at the door just asked me for money to eat" she said sheepishly . "You mean he doesn't work here ?" my instant response . With a smile on her face unique to Ashley , she shook her head side to side , "nope"  . Now we needed to retrieve the hotel's umbrella from the homeless man who thought he just got the best of rainy day gifts , I tell you the fun never stops . 

Warren was so sweet and excited about the prospect of being photographed , but this would be a bit frantic . Because of his pace even I was starting to believe that at any moment throngs would bust down the door . "Sit on this stool we'll try this first " I said trying to take control ,  Warren said "I'll be right back , sorry" . Minutes later we started again only to have Warren leave to get something else done . Back again I took a few more shots and that was that . I really liked this guy , up front , forthcoming with his history , lived in seattle , the army , life . We learned so much so fast ,I'd like to stop and visit some more . But for now hello Warren , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it's been my pleasure to meet you 


Strangers Project #11

No invitation necessary , not even a need is required . It lets everyone attend  , each deciding just how long to stay . There are cars and people , trucks and bicycles each moving somewhere . Most have destinations but some do not . Like seasons the streets have a smooth and constant cycle , from the quiet of the early mornings to the bustle of the midday rush then followed by the shadows and the mystery that seem to permeate them in the darkness . The promenade on River Street has thinned yet still there is a parade of vehicles whose tires plop plop plop slowly over the cobbled streets . I can hear rockabilly music from the club down the street and occasionally the door will fly open increasing the volume of the escaping music , but only until the doorman brings it shut again . Those who have chosen to move on carry cups that hold their intoxicating beverages . Loud conversation and laughter leave no doubt that the revelers are having fun , At least for a moment , girls are prettier , guys more appealing ,  friendships seem deeper and those new people that were just met certainly more interesting now than they will be by morning .On to the next bar or club , 

     Selection for the 50 Stranger project becomes more difficult . Mostly because of the reluctance both DeeDee and I have to getting caught in a circle of young drunken men or perhaps even worse that screaming and cheering group of 20 something women that are here to assure that this bride to be has the wildest bachelorette party ever . Enter Jonathan Deloach walking towards us ,he makes a little eye contact , he and his friend seemed nice enough . "Got a minute" I asked Introducing myself . Sure there was that now omnipresent skepticism we've gotten used to ."We're here to photograph 50 Strangers" I continued , with a mellow tone of voice "what's that all about"? his reply . Small talk ensued , then a "sure why not" . Our shoot and encounter brief , I am now realizing that getting people to photograph is far easier than getting a story to go along with it . I am sure that those will come  but for tonight I want to say , Thanks Jonathan , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was my pleasure to meet you . 


Strangers Project #10

Having now visited Savannah for three straight Saturdays I've begun to discover some hidden secrets of this city . Along the River Street walk that I've mention several times before there is a series of small sitting squares or parks . I'm still learning but one is Anchor Park  and the appropriate huge anchor fills it space , another is called Echo Park . Located on the east end of the promenade , the Shrimp Factory sits across the street spilling the smell of deep fried shrimp with the breeze that slips up the river . not far from the sea the air is fresh and there is a respite from Georgia's summer heat . Walls that double as seating surrounds the small square , people meander , pausing to enjoy the southern night . There is well done masonry that covers the ground and it's surface is primarily smooth . Smack dab in the center are two intersecting lines , a plus mark cross + or an x , depending on which way it's viewed . O.K go ahead , stand on the X and yell , from this spot there is and has been a very noticeable echo audible only to the one on the X . A foot away you hear nothing , and you are simply the idiot yelling hello . Perhaps not amazing but certainly interesting . 

    Echo Park was the setting for our meeting with Walter Harris . In the truest sense of the word Walter is not a stranger as I had photographed him about 5 years ago , candids from a distant , I was so happy with the images that I had a large print made and brought it to him a month later . I never have met a more friendly and polite a man . Gracious and thankful he talked of his music and days gone , he also mentioned health issues but said he was getting "back to where I used to be" . He continued to walk every day to play his guitar and sing the blues , a soulful sound he's been treating river street visitors to for 30 years .

   Tonight Walter stood on the X . Tip can in front , perhaps bucket would be a better description , the kind they use to serve steamed oysters in here in the Lowcountry . I was told that I needed to stand close "He just can't see no more" according to Marion another of the long time street musician . We approached as he sang with emotion and soul , from deep within , coming from a place I'm sure god only knows . With the ending of the song we walked up and at a distance closer than I normally would stand I said "Hey Walter remember me ? I gave you that photograph years ago" . "Well of course I do , how ya'll doin?   " Got that hanging right where you come in my house ."  Of course that made me feel good . His eyes were glassy and he's lost a lot of weight . He sang and we listened , he sings beautiful songs about love about life . We chat between songs  and it's happy . In addition to sharing stories and getting to know one another , it gives the listeners a chance to put a little in the bucket . Tonight is the last night Walter will ever qualify as a stranger , a great guy , struggling , but with a smile . I think from this day forward I could say we're friends . Walter Harris , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was my pleasure to meet you , friend . 

Strangers Project#9

On the front side the constant stream of curious sightseers parade from one end to the other . Peering into shops with inquisitive looks , staring at the other strangers doing the same , the crowd meanders as if in migration . They ogle the menu stands of restaurants to see each presentation of crabcakes , gumbos and fresh oysters , some enter but many pass to continue the procession . They seem to be searching for that one thing to buy that would complete their adventure , that trinket , t-shirt or perhaps those Pecan Pralines that would assure you arrive home heavier than you left . 

    On the back side we set up in the cobbled alley that allows employee to access all of the shops and restaurants that once stored valuable cotton . Cotton that was grown and tended to by slaves and sharecroppers , Cotton that measured a man's wealth , Cotton that left this port to supply exotic destinations that most had never heard of no less visited . Today the doors open quickly , kitchen staff with soiled aprons make quick runs to dumpsters one after the other . Others make last minute adjustments to their makeup and apparel before entering to work the evening shift . Some just come out to see the sky , have a smoke , a short break from answering and serving the hordes of June visitors . 

       A good thirty yards into the alley one more time another door opened , A girl emerged , she took a deep breath and with one leg bent to take some weight off one side , she leaned against the historic bricks . I didn't think she would be the best prospect for a portrait shoot but my wife approached anyway . I saw them chatting , then a smile and a turn in my direction . Hi my name is Bob Gala " you O.K with this" I asked  "a bit of a reluctant smile then she added "Don't have much time I'm working but sure sounds interesting" Jennifer Neighbor was a sweetheart last thing she need in the middle of a much needed break was my request for an art project . 

      Savannah has a rich history with the Irish and if there ever was a girl that looked Irish by my stereotyped mind Jennifer was it . For all I know her ancestry is Bulgarian or French . A moonbeam of a smile and a sincere demeanor that instantly made everyone comfortable . She posed , I shot and then she scurried back to her responsibilities . Thanks Jennifer , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was my pleasure to meet you today .